By turns lyrical and sardonic, this new collection from Katie Donovan is characteristically watery – candid and uncompromising in its refusal to inhabit the safer reaches of the shore. Themes of loss, widowhood and ageing co-exist with observations of her wild garden and its inhabitants, including a mangey fox she helps to survive.
Small acts of salvage are often all that is possible, such as the permission given during the Covid-19 pandemic to go 2km from home. This allowed Donovan to swim at White Rock, her local beach, thus staying afloat through the fear of that brutal time and what came next – the death of her mother. In some of these new poems the comforting delusion of rescue is highlighted as a flawed but human necessity. Other poems give voice to the remorse that is the haunting of a failed rescue.
Whether writing about her hybrid car, the death of whales from ingesting plastic waste, or abortion now being legal in Ireland, Donovan’s idiosyncratic range of tone and subject continues to enthral and engage the reader thirty years after her debut collection, Watermelon Man, arrived with its ‘distinguished and open language’ and ‘bold statements of identity’ (Eavan Boland).
In 2017 Katie Donovan was awarded the twenty-first O’Shaughnessy Award for Poetry 'for the intensity and conviction of her poetry, in recognition of the great range of both her craft and her subject matter, and in appreciation of her dedication to the witness and the vocation of the writer'.
From the reviews of Off Duty:
'Katie Donovan’s new book, Off Duty, emerged out of the illness and premature death of her partner. Donovan records the devastating impact of that illness and loss on her relationships to her young children, her extended family and partner... If Donovan’s subject is compelling, her style is more jagged: buttoned-down plainness coexists with tender, naively rendered details, alongside occasional shifts to a higher and more obviously poetic register. It is a tricky combination, but… it can be surprising and effective.’ – John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
'Donovan is offering us the most honest and heart-breaking depiction of loss…What works so potently alongside such unwavering frankness is the quiet accommodation made by a household that includes two young children, whose pathetic witness to their father’s loss provides the collection with its most harrowing and heart-stopping moments…I can but urge you to read this, weep, and remember that thou too, art dust.’ – Martin Malone, Poetry Ireland Review
‘Throughout the collection, Donovan’s voice remains relatable, despite her extraordinary circumstance. She does not romanticise death, or the dying; nor does she make excuses for any ugliness she finds within herself. Yet in ascribing such a tapestry of thoughts and feelings to trauma, she is able to tenderly replicate her experience in all its contradictions; in both its darkness and its light. Off Duty is certainly an account of grieving, for the dead and the dying, but it’s also a study of those who go on living, and who, in time, will thrive again.’ – Julia O’Mahony, Dublin Review of Books
'The deep rhythms of the body shape this moving collection… Katie Donovan’s poems are lean and spare…reports from the front line.’ – Dorothy Yamamoto, Artemis
‘The exact capturing of powerful and often contradictory emotions, thoughts and responses in language this vivid is extraordinarily affecting: a chronicle of almost impossible times, ‘both a searing tragedy and a chainlink of domestic chores’.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian
Katie Donovan reads seven poems
Katie Donovan reads seven poems from Rootling: New & Selected Poems (2010): ‘Butter’, 'Yearn On', 'Stitching’, ‘Day of the Dead, New Orleans’, 'Rootling' and ‘Buying a Body’. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Katie Donovan reading her poems at her home in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, in June 2009. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed and edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce and Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017).
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